Yesterday Romain surprised me with the best early Christmas gift ever: a behind-the-scenes, top to bottom private tour of the Palais Garnier Opéra House. Palais Garnier is my favorite building in Paris, so to discover it in such an up close and personal way felt like a beyond unimaginable dream.
My Love for Palais Garnier
I first fell in love with Palais Garnier from the outside. I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on it. It was on a Sunday evening in October 2012. I’d just emerged from the métro after having dinner at El Nopal. I realize that’s a very specific and random memory to have, but the building made such an impression on me lit up against the deep blue night sky. I took a picture of it and sent it to my mom. When I came home from studying abroad, she gave me a series of my Paris photos that she had framed. It’s still one of the most thoughtful and special gifts I’ve ever received.
My interest in Palais Garnier only grew once I went inside. It’s just stunning. It quickly rose to the top of my list of places to bring people in Paris. I wasn’t surprised to learn that my grandmother also loved Palais Garnier. She had the coolest book “Marc Chagall The Ceiling of the Paris Opera.” My grandmother was truly the coolest person with the best book collection.
The Special Palais Garnier Behind the Scenes Tour
When we first walked into the back entrance of Palais Garnier I was excited. I had no idea exactly how incredible my day was about to be. Needless to say, yesterday I felt like pinching myself 1000 times.
We toured every part of the building and learned so many interesting facts and historical tidbits. Afterwards, we saw Napoléon III’s private salon which is now used by researchers. We saw the archives and original costume sketches. We went on the balcony of the library where they keep all of the books the researchers might need.
Next, we descended and went into the Grand Foyer which was pure Christmas in Paris magic for me with the huge flocked tree with red lights. I can’t even put into words how gorgeous it looked.
Then, we went to the upper levels of the foyers to check out the intricate mosaic ceiling up-close. They recently restored parts of the ceiling so the colors really popped. We continued our tour up, and eventually landed in a dance studio with a 360 degree view of the Parisian rooftops, and of course, the Eiffel Tower. The sun was just starting to go down. Yet another pinch me moment.
We saw so many fascinating parts of the building and the rooftops with tons of “secret” spaces. It was all so exciting but we saved one of the best parts for last…underground.
The Basement of the Opéra Garnier
When we went in the basement we immediately saw the water that runs under the Palais Garnier. This is the same “lake” that inspired the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera’s lair. We then went to see some of the original machinery, “cabestans,” that controlled the curtains and sets on stage. They were originally used in ships, so at the beginning the men who managed them worked on ships as well.
Maybe one of the most fun surprises was seeing the mini underground Aquarium. A firefighter decided to create the aquarium in the water that runs under the Palais Garnier, and someone comes to feed the fish every day.
This special tour of Palais Garnier went beyond my wildest expectations and made me love the building so much more. Luckily we’ve been invited to come back, so I can’t wait to see what more we discover on our next tour!